Image via J. Stalin/Instagram

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From now on, if someone asks Yousef Srour if he wants a receipt, the answer is an outstanding yes.

2010 was a completely different era for the East Bay. The Hyphy movement had gone dormant and the next generation began to slowly emerge. The former members of Mob Figaz – The Jacka and Husalah – began to have regionally massive solo careers. In Berkeley, Lil B started his own terminally online, globally-spanning Based Rap movement. And in West Oakland, J. Stalin and the Livewire crew started to became a Mob Music kingpin.

Born Jovan Smith, J. Stalin was raised in the Cypress Village housing projects of West Oakland. He’d always had a bit of a baby face, giving him an inconspicuous edge to his life on the streets. On his official debut, 2006’s Prenuptial Agreement’s “Rock Day,” Stalin outlines how his demeanor lent its hands to his success as a salesman, a face that no one can say no to: “Any other day in my ‘hood, it’d be a hot day / I don’t give a f*ck, for me it’s a sell rock day.”

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Stalin rarely skipped a day of work. If he wasn’t dealing, he was rapping; if he wasn’t writing, he was selling CDs out of his truck. Creating generational wealth became J. Stalin’s fundamental purpose. To him, his own Livewire Records became an institution even more essential than marriage.

With Prenuptial Agreement, Stalin defined the sonic progression of Oakland’s post-Hyphy landscape. This was the birthplace of “mob music,” characterized by thick, lead bass-lines and synthesizers that spewed distorted melody amidst the hazy sound of The Mekanix’ production (and the screeching tires that weaved their way into their producer tag).

Alongside the dope dealers standing at the intersection of 14th Street and Kirkham Way, J. Stalin stood out the nostalgic chronicler seeing life through the eyes of the D-boy on the corner. He has the pen of a great R&B songwriter, but croons with perfect imperfections. His mezzo-soprano voice raps in accordance to G-funk’s nonchalant cadence; his singing warbles with deep emotion. It has a raw power.

After thirteen years of rumors and anticipation, the sequel Prenuptial Agreement 2 has finally arrived. Joined now with an even wider cast of characters, J. Stalin has recruited everyone from Bay Area legacy acts to its most recent rising stars, everyone from Philthy Rich to EBK Young Joc. But do be wary, J. Stalin’s long-awaited sequel is no guideline to engagement. In the last thirteen years, Stalin never married. Prenuptial Agreement 2 is a testament to the wealth that’s set in, the children he has had to raise, and the legacy of West Oakland coke rap. Maybe love is for thinkers and prenups are for doers; maybe the nuclear family is for the average Joe and independence is the path towards rap stardom. Regardless, J. Stalin has spent over a decade building Livewire Records from the ground up and he’ll be damned if someone tries to walk away with half.

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